What Makes a Quality Leather Bag? Full Grain Leather. - Jackson Wayne Leather Goods

What Makes a Quality Leather Bag?

The Leather

Most companies would never tell you their source, but we will. Our leather comes from Wicket & Craig Tannery in Pennsylvania. They've been making leather since 1867. Their American heritage leather is so amazing, you have to see it in person to truly appreciate it. It's a work of art. Check out this video of the tannery.

Full Grain Leather

We use only full grain cow leather to make our leather goods, which is the highest quality of leather you can get. So what is “full grain leather” you might ask?

Full Grain Vegetable Tanned Leather

For simplicity’s sake, there are essentially three layers to a cowhide. The top layer is the grain. That’s the texture you see on the surface. There’s a transitional junction below that. Then, the bulk of the hide is called the split and is basically suede leather. As you can see from the picture above, the texture starts off very tight at the top and loosens up as you go down in layers. The top layer is the strongest part of the hide. The bottom layer is the weakest. Those are the basics. 

But it’s what happens from here that matters most. Many companies do all sorts of hideous things to the leather. They split it, sand it, treat it, and imprint fake patterns on the surface, which is called embossing. When they sand down the surface, it makes the leather weaker.

Sometimes, they take a thin weak piece of leather and add a lining to it to make it appear thicker. Or they might take a bunch of inferior leather, usually from the split and reconstitute it to form a new piece of "leather." Think: particle board. The list goes on and on. The more they do to the leather, the more they can stretch their dollar and the very definition of "genuine leather."

It’s kind of like taking table scraps from a delicious roast to make soup. Then watering down the soup. Then freezing the soup and microwaving it – 3 times. Is there still some meat in the soup? I don’t know, maybe. But we’re a long way from where we started.

So what makes our leather the highest quality? We do nothing to it. What you see is what you get. We use 5-8 ounce leather, which can be over 1/8 inch thick. The surface is not sanded, buffed or embossed. This is what is meant by “full grain leather.” Don't be fooled by bags claiming they use "top grain" leather. Although "top grain" sounds like "full grain," it is not. Top grain leather has been sanded and the surface has been altered, weakening the leather. There are plenty of appropriate uses for top grain leather, but it is a lesser grade of leather and we don't use it.

Because we do nothing to it, using only unadulterated full grain leather, you will see the character of the grain in our leather. There may even be little “imperfections” from where the cow rubbed up against a barbed wire fence, was bitten by an insect, etc. But these are not imperfections at all – they are proof of the purity of the leather we use. This type of rich character is the hallmark of super premium full grain leathers. 

Full Grain Leather vs. Genuine Leather

This can be a little confusing. Simply put, full grain leather is the best. Genuine leather is usually the worst. Why? Genuine leather is the catchall term for anything that is technically leather. This includes not only scraps of cow leather, but other animal skins as well, even goat and pig leather. 

Many years ago, the government changed the definition of “genuine leather” to include animals besides cattle. This was around the time that we started importing heavily from overseas. So, all of a sudden, that leather jacket you had been wanting became really cheap. Didn’t know you were wearing a ham sandwich, did you?

Vegetable Tanned Leather

Our leather is also vegetable tanned, which means it undergoes a specific tanning process that very few bags on the mass-market today use. Vegetable tanning refers to the organic plant matter like tree bark used in the tanning process, which you can see in the video above. It’s the oldest form of leather tanning and has been around for centuries. It is also the most natural and environmentally friendly. Plus, the leather smells amazing.

About 90% of leathers on the market today are chrome tanned. This method uses harsh chemicals but is quicker and cheaper. It can be done in a few days as opposed to the 6 weeks it takes for vegetable tanning. When I set out to make the highest quality leather bag possible, I knew I had to use vegetable tanned leather.

Our leather is very thick and durable like bags from decades past - it's 2-3 times thicker than most mass-market bags. This extra thickness makes our bags last a long time and gives structure to the bag so you don’t end up with a mushy mess. The specific type of leather we use is harness leather. It's designed to hold back a raging stallion, so we're confident it can hold your MacBook. It’s the type of leather your grandfather would have appreciated. 

Here's a chart that sums it all up nicely:

full grain leather vs genuine leather vs vegetable tanned leather infographic

The Hardware

We use antique brass hardware in our bags. Believe it or not, many of the mass-market bags use plastic or cheap metals that break easily. Not us, we use a specially formulated antique brass that ensures durability without adding extra weight. All of our hardware matches perfectly and is consistent in look to the vintage bags that inspired me. 

The Thread

The thread is often overlooked because it’s pretty boring to think about thread. But without good quality thread, there is no way a bag will last for decades. We use heavy gauge bonded Nylon thread to make our leather goods. Nylon is the strongest and best thread to use for this type of bag. It’s stronger than cotton or polyester thread. In fact, they used to use Nylon in parachutes and ropes during WWII because of its superior strength. That’s good enough for me. 

Handcrafted Quality

We design & manufacture all of our leather goods right here in the USA. Our bags are handcrafted in a small family-run factory with decades of experience in leather craftsmanship. Our production process includes redundant layers of quality control. Simply put, quality is guaranteed.